In my first year as Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice, I spoke at the Annual General Meeting. After my talk, a gentleman asked, “How can you tell if your work is successful?” I had an answer then, but I’ve just read a book that answers that tough question very well.
The three professors who wrote the book define activism as “attempting to bring about…change for a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.” They asked nine diverse organizations across Canada (several of which collaborate in CPJ’s work) to uncover aspects of how they create change. Examples were chosen from groups working on fair trade coffee campaigns, disability issues, and even a faith group working on international justice and human rights.
This book concludes that assessing success after the fact often hides the complexities of good evaluation. What might be viewed as failure, such as a government’s refusal to implement legislation, may have other positive effects in terms of generating excitment and commitment for new groups of people in this effort. Sometimes developing new analytical skills in affected groups, making new allies, or identifying new funders may be vital signs of progress.
Indeed, under pressure to achieve measureable outcomes, most groups cannot afford to tell the truth: that they may never know the full “results” of their work. Advocacy targets are important, but should not force organizations to focus on quanitfiable indicators alone. Work for social change is a committed, long term investment-worthy of a lifetime’s mission. - Joe Gunn, Executive Director, Citizens for Public Justice